Skelmersdale United 0 Curzon Ashton 1

Tuesday 28th April 2009
Skelmersdale United 0 Curzon Ashton 1
Unibond League Division 1 North Play-off Semi Final
At: Skelmersdale & Ormskirk College Stadium
Kick-off: 7-45 pm
Admission: £7-50; Programme: £1-50
Attendance: 324
Weather: mild, rain during second half
Duration: first half: 46:14; second half: 47:34

I’ve only been through the lottery of the play-offs once as a supporter. I only know how the elation feels when the team I was supporting got through the semi final and ended up winning the final via a penalty shoot-out. Last May, I was at the Pirelli Stadium to see Barrow beat Stalybridge in an upset, which showed the final league positions often count for nothing. How apt that last statement was this evening as Skelmersdale, nicknamed simply ‘Skem’, hosted Curzon Ashton who were separated by 18 points in the final league table.

A week ago, Skelmersdale were in pole position to gain automatic promotion from Unibond League Division One North to the Premier Division. After winning nine league games in a row, they trailed leaders Durham City by one point with a game in hand. Skem played their game in hand last Thursday but suffered 2-1 home defeat at the hands of Newcastle Blue Star.

So after that Blue Star loss, Skem went into last Saturday’s final game needing to win themselves and hoping that Durham wouldn’t win their final game at Woodley Sports. At half-time in their respective games, Skelmersdale led Curzon 2-0 and Durham were losing 3-1 – Skelmersdale were going up. Skem went on to record a 4-0 win but Durham hit back to win 4-3 and secure the automatic promotion spot.

This game tonight could be rightly described a true ‘groundhog day’ game. Last season the same teams met at the same semi final stage at the same ground with Skelmersdale going through to the final with a 3-0 win. Of course the teams met on Saturday at the Tameside Stadium. Will the luck change for Curzon Ashton this time round I wondered before setting off up the M6?

Skelmersdale are on the list of clubs who have moved to a new stadium in recent times. Back in 2002, they vacated White Moss Park (which I visited in March 1992) and had a spell groundsharing at Burscough before playing their first game at their current home in September 2004. Today, the ground is known by its sponsored name of ‘The Skelmersdale & Ormskirk College Stadium’ and also as ‘Stormy Corner’. I tried to Google a reason for the name ‘Stormy Corner’ but only found out it is the name of a six-piece inde band in the town and the name of an old street that now longer exists. I think it may be the district of the town that the ground is located.

The ground was in the Stanley Industrial Estate to the west of the town centre. From the M58 junction 4, follow Skelmersdale signs on the dual carriageway and straight over the next roundabout (Hope Island). At the next roundabout (the amazing Half-Mile Island), turn left into Neverstitch Road, then right at the next roundabout (signed (signposted Stanley Ind Estate) into Staveley Road and left into Statham Road. The ground was about 400 yards on the left in Selby Place.

The entrance, to the left of the social club was through the car park and once inside the pitch (orientated east to west) ran lengthways. Programmes (£1-50) were sold from the kiosk immediately to the right of the entrance. Behind the near goal to the right of the entrance was an area of covered standing along with hospitality rooms and a food outlet. On the right-hand touchline was a seated stand consisting four rows of blue individual tip-up seats in two bocks separated by the players’ retractable tunnel. For a newly ground, I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of grass banking – along the near left-hand touchline, behind the far goal and either side of the stand down the right. Dugouts were either side of the halfway line down the right.

I really felt a big match atmosphere, helped by a group of vociferous away fans gathered at the far end of the seated stand. Music blasted out. Channel M were also present to record the game for their Greater Manchester Football Show. The announcer, who was excellent on the night, tried to whip up the home fans – the Standbangers?

The programme was bang up-to-date. Full marks, therefore, to the editor as this match wasn’t certain to take place until around 4-45 pm on Saturday. But I’m sure he/she would have gladly sent anything prepared in advance to his computer recycle bin had Skem gone up automatically. It contained plenty to read and plenty of stats as well. One stat Curzon Ashton had to overcome was the fact they had lost each of their last seven visits to face Skelmersdale.

Curzon Ashton (wearing all red) got the game underway attacking the entrance end in the first half, or right to left from my seat on the third row of the stand. Most of the early play was inside the Skelmersdale half. The visitors won the first corner and had the first chance when Alex Elliot fired wide from 25 yards out. Set-piece man Elliot wearing white boots curled a 19-yard free-kick over the wall and bar.

Home fans around me were concerned about their side’s slow start. “C’mon United, C’mon Michael drive them forward.”

On the quarter hour, Phil Edghill went down inside the area and appealed for a penalty. The referee, who was superb all evening in my opinion, said no and booked the Curzon striker for simulation instead.

Curzon continued to enjoy procession and Elliot delivered another corner just as the vocal visiting fans decided to hold an impromptu conga in front of the stand! Don’t know where they disappeared to as things went quiet.

Play settled down into a quiet phase either side of the midpoint of the first half until the 37th minute. James Ogoo fed the overlapping David Birch who hit a well-struck diagonal ball low across the face of goal, past a couple of waiting forwards. A Skem defender must have got a vital touch as the referee gave a corner. Cue vocal support from the home fans in an attempt to lift their side.

Just before the interval, Birch crossed from the right into the area to unmarked Elliot who sidefooted wide from 10 yards out.

The ‘conga boys’ returned to clap off their team at half-time. Curzon had dominated the first half, so would they pay for not turning their dominance into a least one goal.

The visitors were keen to get on with the second half and came out fully three minutes before the home side, who returned to a rousing reception.

Skelmersdale (wearing all blue) were much better in the second half. Soon after the restart, Birch needed to make a desperate clearance to prevent Kevin Towey from have a clear shot on goal from barely 8 yards out. Much better and game was very much on as a contest. And 11 minutes into the second half Martin Crowder delivered sent a free-kick forward into the area. Keeper David Carnell dropped the ball and Michael White fired it over the bar.

Rain was falling quite heavily now and Ryan McMahon produced a superb save in the 67th minute to tip over Dean Hasim’s powerful header from Elliot’s free-kick. In response, Skelmersdale got forward with a delightful passing move which ended with Carnell almost fumbling Crowder’s near post shot into his own net.

I was beginning to wonder if my run of games without a 0-0 stretching back to Boxing Day was going to come to an end at one with the prospect of extra time.

Play was really open and end to end. Steve Akrigg hit a low long-range drive which Carnell claimed at the second attempt.

Eventually, the deadlock was broken in the 84th minute when Edghill sent an unstoppable shot flashing past McMahon into the far right-side of the net.

Manager Tommy Lawson responded with a double change – his side had to throw everything forward.

I’m sure I heard the odd groan when the fourth official indicated two minutes of added time, followed by an announcement for those who hadn’t seen the board. The groans were from Skem fans worried that there was so little time left for them to grab an equaliser and that the ball was deep in their half.

The fact that 18 points separated the teams counted for nothing – Skelmersdale simply had to score to keep their promotion dream alive. Then they got forward down the right and the ball was delivered into the area. It fell to Thomas Moore who agonisingly fired wide of the near post. He looked gutted and was consoled with a pat from the Curzon skipper.

Forward went the ball again into the Skem half and it never left until the referee blew the final whistle.

“Best of luck Curzon in the final on Saturday,” said the sporting announcer. Curzon Ashton face a trip to either Newcastle Blue Star or Colwyn Bay as they continue their bid to reach the Unibond League’s top division for the first time in their history.

Skelmersdale United (blue/blue/blue): 1. Ryan McMahon, 2. Michael Duffy, 3. Martin Crowder, 4. Steven Akrigg, 5. Michael White (capt), 6. Aaron Turner, 7. Adam Wade, 8. Adam Birchall, 9. Mark Houghton, 10. Kevin Towey, 11. Kyle Armstrong. Subs: 12. Steve Morrison (not used), 14. Paul Prescott (for Houghton, 86), 15. Dave Wright (not used), 16. Tom Walker (not used), 17. Thomas Moore (for Towey, 86).

Curzon Ashton (red/red/red): 1. David Carnell, 2. David Birch (capt), 3. Matthew Russell, 4. Dean Hasim, 5. Adam Jones, 6. James Agoo, 7. Chris Worsley, 8. Chris Curley, 9. Michael Norton, 10. Phil Edghill, 11. Alex Elliot. Subs: 12. Michael O’Connor (for Elliot, 90), 14. Jordon Goodeve (not used), 15. Tyler Devlin (not used), 16. Gavin Affleck (not used).


0-1 Phil Edghill (84)

Skelmersdale: none
Curzon Ashton: Phil Edghill (YC, 18)